In recent years, tens of thousands of Africans have made the dangerous passage from Libya and Tunisia to Lampedusa — hoping one day to find a new life in Europe. Thousands have died at sea. Thousands more have suffered indignities at the hands of human traffickers.
Pope Francis said Lampedusa dramatized the plight of the world’s immigrants and refugees. And he said Lampedusa should challenge our consciences.
“Today no one in our world feels responsible,” he said. “We have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. … The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people. … In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference.”
The Pope’s words have stayed with me as the summer has turned to fall and momentum for immigration reform in our own country seems to be fading.
For me, “Lampedusa” has become more than a place on the map. Lampedusa, for me, is a dark region of the heart. In our “Lampedusa of the heart” we become insensitive and indifferent to the sufferings of others. We forget that we are responsible for our brothers and sisters.
Leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives rejected the comprehensive reform legislation that passed the Senate this summer. Instead, they are taking a slower, more step-by-step approach — working on a series of smaller bills that would address different aspects of our broken immigration system.
This may be wise and is probably more realistic politically. But I’m worried because there doesn’t seem to be much urgency in the House to address the challenges.
Immigration reform can’t wait. We can’t let another year slip away, doing nothing.
Millions of our brothers and sisters are suffering — and they have been for years now. Not only the anonymous men and women who die regularly in the desert trying to reach our borders. Or the victims of human trafficking and “coyotes.” Or the young people who can’t go to school or get jobs because their parents brought them here illegally. Or the men and women who make up a vast underclass of workers without rights.
Mostly I worry about the children and the families caught up in our broken system. Two-thirds of the undocumented persons in our country have been here for at least a decade. They are our neighbors and classmates. They are the people we sit next to in church on Sunday.
In the last four years we’ve deported nearly 2 million of these people — one in four is being taken away from his or her family. We’ve taken them from their children, their wives and husbands, all their relatives.
We need to keep repeating these basic human facts.
Because too much of our national conversation about immigration is still only about political calculations. What party is going to benefit? Who is going to win the “crucial” Latino vote?
This kind of talk is a sign of the indifference that Pope Francis referred to. We could only talk this way if we ourselves were feeling comfortable, and if we’ve forgotten that there are real people involved in this issue who are hurting.
Our obligations as Christians rise above every political justification or consideration we might make.
As followers of Christ, we can’t remain indifferent in the face of so much suffering. We can’t accept an America that enforces the rule of law by breaking up families and punishing kids for their parents’ “crimes.” We can’t accept an America where an arbitrary decision by someone in an office — can result in families being separated for years.
We need immigration reform right now. We need reform that keeps our borders safe and restores the rule of law. We need reform that gives rights to workers and offers citizenship to those who want to be our neighbors.
Immigration reform is a life issue and it is a family issue. And it is a question of our soul.
Jesus told us that he would be present in the immigrants, in the prisoners, in those who are suffering sickness and poverty. What we do to them, we do him, he said.
Pope Francis has said: “We should reread more often chapter 25 of the Gospel according to Matthew in which he speaks of the Last Judgment.” Let’s do that this week.
And let’s pray for one another and for our leaders. Let us pray to rediscover our capacity to care for one another and to be close to others in their sufferings.
And let us ask Mary, our Blessed Mother of Refuge, to help revive hearts deadened by indifference. May we find new grace to remove all the Lampedusas of our hearts.